Is “Always On” Always Right?

Three Business Customer
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On: 9 Mar 2017
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Enda Clarke, Santos Dumont

Enda Clarke, Chief Executive – Technical at Santos Dumont, shares his thoughts on how mobile working works at the Dublin-based global project management service for airlines.

Mobile working provides more flexibility and a better work-life balance. At least that’s the opinion of 87% of Irish business owners.* However, do they still feel the same way when their mobile rings at 11pm?

Is being “always on” always better – and how do you ensure flexibility works for the people on both ends of the call? Is it possible to balance working when and how you want, with being more available to work when everyone else wants? Does it depend on the business, the people, or the technology?

For a customer, having a contact who is always available is a blessing. For the contact, perhaps not so much. After all, it’s a brave employee who rejects a call from a customer, even if it is 11pm. However, if an employee joins a business that operates globally across time zones, or that handles time-critical projects, or covers emergency breakdowns, they will know what they signed-up to and would hardly expect a 9-5 day.

That’s certainly the case at Santos Dumont. The global nature of the business means it’s inevitable that there will often only be short periods when all office hours overlap. Similarly, the project-based way the business and its customers operate, with intensive bursts of activity to tight deadlines, means there will be periods when the day is anything but normal office hours. In which case, where does the balance come in?

Switching off the people

According to Enda Clarke, Chief Executive – Technical, the work-life balance lies not in thinking that flexibility can be good or bad, but in the understanding that it works two ways. “When there’s a quiet time between projects, we don’t insist our staff sit in the office. Precisely because they’re connected all the time, they can just as easily work from home, and so spend more time with their families in this downtime. At Christmas, for example, mobility gives us the freedom to not have to be physically in the office over the quieter holiday period – knowing that we will never be completely unreachable in an emergency.”

Enda also believes it’s not necessarily the technology which is disruptive to a work-life balance, but the people using it.

“Workaholics will always be workaholics, whether they’re always-on or not. Regardless of the technology, they have to develop their own ability to switch off so they can come back refreshed.”

Mobile working must-haves

The smartphone has enabled mobile working, but which smartphone apps truly enable greater flexibility, a greater ability to work on your own terms, and therefore a better work-life balance?

In Enda’s opinion, one of the most surprisingly useful applications for Santos Dumont has been WhatsApp; “in some respects, it has replaced email. It’s easier to make contact because the quality of communication is better, with less drop-off, and it’s possible to know if the message has been read or not and therefore whether someone is asleep, or in transit.”

On his own phone, Enda continually checks Outlook, and finds online Word and Excel invaluable for being able to work when and where he chooses.

In the interests of balance – work-life or otherwise – he also highlights the one development in mobility he would prefer not to see, literally, taking off. “Don’t bring in Wi-Fi on every airline,” he pleads. “An aeroplane is a great place for uninterrupted head-space and an opportunity for some strategic thinking.”

*Source: Mobile Business Barometer Report, November 2016

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